Texas public schools are jumping on the bandwagon to shun symbols and dump historical figures that memorialize the Confederate South in a politicized push around the state that follows the tragic hate crime shooting of nine African-American church parishioners during a Bible study in Charleston, SC.
On Thursday, Rhonda Skillern-Jones, school board president for the nation’s seventh largest school district, Houston Independent School District (ISD), called for renaming six campuses that bear the names of Confederate army officers and others associated with the Confederacy. District Superintendent Terry Grier is “strongly considering” recommending that the board do it, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Previously, Texas state Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) urged Skillern-Jones in a letter to rebrand those six campuses, which are Dowling Middle School, named for Richard Dowling, a Confederate army officer; Jackson Middle School, named for Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, the brigadier general in the Confederate army; Davis High School, named for Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America; Johnston Middle School, named for Albert Sidney Johnson, a Confederate army general; Lee High School, named for Confederate army commander Robert E. Lee; and Reagan High School, named for the postmaster general and the Confederacy’s secretary of the treasury John H. Reagan.
Houston ISD student population is largely Hispanic and African-American but in the aforementioned schools, the students are predominantly Hispanic, notes the Chronicle.
Calls for change do not come cheap. Last year, it cost Houston ISD about $250,000 to transform the Lamar Redskins into the Lamar Texans, according to KTRK-13. This included costs for changing mascot names, team uniforms, related spirit, pride and booster branded materials,
Lamar High School became the “Texans” after being deemed offensive to the Native American Community. Ironically, they wanted to become the Lamar Texians but that word came under fire because of a semantical battle over its historical roots.
The Houston Press reported that for some individuals “Texian” was a nostalgic term to describe the inhabitants who lived in the region at the time Texas fought for its independence from Mexico. Others insisted Texians were only Anglos and not Tejanos or Hispanic Texans and were tied to a slave-trading past.
Also, in Houston ISD, the Welch Middle School Warriors became the Wolf Pack, the Westbury High Rebels and the Hamilton Middle School Indians became the Huskies in Grier’s policy to ban “mascots deemed culturally insensitive,” according to the Houston Chronicle.
Hispanic activist Ben Raigoza with Una Voz Unida (One Voice United) called to rename the Robert E. Lee High School in Midland ISD. He claimed that by changing the name of the school it “could inspire students that are maybe not doing as well as they could,” KWES-9 reported.
Gene Collins with the local NAACP chapter disagreed and called history “knowledge.” He told KWES-9: “It’s important to know Robert E. Lee.”
He also said: “You could, with your own freedom of expression, you could put up whatever you want to. That’s one of the beauties of this country.”
The report pointed out that many alumni and current students still use the confederate flag to show their rebel pride.
In San Antonio, former mayor-turned-HUD czar Julian Castro stirred the pot during the week as well. News Radio 1200 WOAI reported that he called for a name change of area North East ISD’s Robert E. Lee High School.
Castro wrote on his personal Facebook page: “North East ISD should call together a group of board members, students, and community members to change the name of Robert E. Lee High School,” according to the radio outlet.
He added: “There are other, more appropriate individuals to honor, and spotlight as role models.”
There was no mention of whom the progressive Castro felt was a suitable namesake for the school.
According to 1200 WOAI, the local San Antonio school scrapped the Confederate flag as the school’s symbol back in 1991 and the principal decided, at this time, that it would be best to let history remain in the past.
She said that the removal of the Confederate flag came after some racial incidents in the neighborhood compounded by the fact that an African-American boy was a member of the school band which donned Confederate flag adorned uniforms. The sensitivity to the request was taken seriously but a complete school name change all these years later will not likely happen.
According to the local radio outlet, the North East ISD chancellor has “already received a flurry of phone calls” demanding the name not be changed.
An opinion piece in the Dallas Morning News promoted an online petition to rename two Dallas ISD campuses – Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson elementary schools. It was curiously concerned that Houston ISD was ahead in the race to rename Confederate-referenced public schools.
However, in 2000, far away from the media spotlight, the Hays High School in Buda voted to phase out the use of the Confederate flag at official events, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Then, in 2012, the Hays Consolidated Independent School District (CISD) board members voted 5-2 to prohibit the display of writings or images that are discriminatory, harassing or threatening. That included the Confederate flag where it was cause for controversy. Some found the flag offensive for what it symbolized while others, argued it was a symbol of Southern Pride.
It was not just political correctness behind the flag ban, said the Statesman. Two 14-year-old boys wrote “KKK” slurs and urinated on an African-American teacher’s door. Charges were filed against them.
Meanwhile, the school’s fight song Dixie, equally associated with the pre-Civil War South, was not banned as there was less opposition to the song than to the flag.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.